How to know if your symptoms are severe enough to see an allergist

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So you’re sneezing and rubbing your eyes this allergy season. Who is not ? Allergies are common enough that many of us can manage their symptoms with over-the-counter medications and avoidance strategies like spending less time outdoors on days with high pollen counts. But when are allergies serious enough that you need to see a specialist?

First, if you see a primary care provider for regular checkups, you can always ask about your allergies.. Let them know how bad your symptoms are are and how much they affect your life, and they will help you determine if a referral to an allergist makes sense. (They can also recommend a specific person to see.)

But if you’re trying to decide for yourself, here are some of the signs that you could benefit from seeing a professional.

You don’t know what you’re allergic to

One of the most important things an allergist can do that you can’t do yourself is test your reaction to dozens of common allergens at the same time. It is do not the same as one of those mail order blood tests, which are almost useless. Instead, allergy testing is usually done with a skin test. The provider will draw a small grid on your arm or back, and at each spot apply a small amount of a substance and prick your skin. There are test sets for pollens, pet dander, and other common allergens. If you are allergic to any of the test items, you will have a skin reaction.

Other types of legitimate allergy testing, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), include challenge testing, where you ingest a small amount of a suspected food under supervision, and IgE blood testing (unrelated to mail-order IgG testing).

For skin tests, you will get the results immediately (the test takes about 20 minutes). The allergist can then advise you on what to do for allergies that have been identified—if you need to carry an Epi-Pen, for example, or if you need to use certain prescription or over-the-counter medications, they will discuss this with you.

They can also provide other strategies that will help you avoid and treat with the allergens in your life. For example, my allergist recommended pillow shams and mattress covers as part of a strategy to manage my dust mite allergy. I never thought these blankets were likely to be so useful, but I finally paid for them based on his recommendation, and my symptoms became a lot better.

You have asthma too, and it’s getting worse

Allergists also specialize in asthma. Both conditions involve the immune system, and people with asthma often tend to have allergies. Consider seeing a specialist if you have signs of severe asthma, whether or not they are accompanied by allergies. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) identifies them as:

  • Wheezing or coughing, especially at night or after exercise
  • Struggling to catch her breath
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest or shortness of breath

Breathing difficulties are bad for you, whatever the cause, and asthma symptoms can overlap with those of other heart and lung conditions. If you can’t get to the allergist anytime soon, raise your concerns with any doctor you can see.

Your allergies or asthma are seriously affecting your daily life

If you’re sniffling occasionally during pollen season, you probably don’t need specialist help. But the ACAAI recommends talking to someone about your allergies if:

  • Your seasonal allergies last for months of the year
  • Over-the-counter medications are not enough to control your allergies
  • Over-the-counter medications control your allergies, but only when you take enough of them that you feel sleepy all the time or have unacceptable side effects.
  • Your allergies are causing chronic sinus infections, congestion, or difficulty breathing
  • Your asthma or allergies seriously affect your daily life.

If you’ve seen an allergist before, but your symptoms have since gotten worse, it’s worth going back. For example, if you are already taking asthma medication but are having frequent asthma attacks, this is a sign that you need to see someone.

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